Thursday, September 15, 2011

The New Site is Live!

Look for future entries of The Corporate Zendo here.

And make sure that you check out the whole site--there's a lot to look at--an e-guide, video, and more--

Jeff Munn Coaching.

Thanks for a great twenty months here. More to come at the new site...


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Thursday, September 8, 2011

A Reminder, and Some New Developments

When I left on vacation at the beginning of July, I said there would be some changes coming to The Corporate Zendo. And those changes continue to happen, both to the blog and the work that I'm doing.

Here's a brief update and (first) a reminder--

Meditation for Busy People
For those of you in the DC area, I will be offering a two hour workshop on bringing moments of meditation, of presence, into daily life on September 17 from 2-4 pm. Whether you work in an office or out of you home, there are times when it seems there's simply too much going on to handle. And we can get overwhelmed when we don't know what to do next.

The brain needs renewal to be at its most effective, but luckily, renewal can be a simple matter. The Meditation for Busy People workshop will talk about that renewal process as well as how and when to use it.

You can read more about the session and logistics here. If you want to come, please let me know on Facebook here.

New Website and Coaching Business
I'm in the midst of putting up a new website at The website won't have a lot of content at first, but I will be working to add content quickly. Once the new site is up, new postings on The Corporate Zendo will go up on that site, along with links to some greatest hits. I'm getting more and more familiar with WordPress, but I have a lot to learn!

I expect to continue to write in The Corporate Zendo roughly once a week and to use Facebook and Twitter to provide other information. I confess I don't have everything figured out yet--it's possible that the name and focus of each (The Corporate Zendo Facebook Page and LeaderZen Twitter feed) will change a bit.

I'll let you know when the new site is up and running, which I hope will be in a few days. Going forward, the best way to stay in touch will be through a subscription form on the website. I hope you'll continue to support me by subscribing!

As you'll see from the website, the focus of my coaching will be on stress management, at least at first (especially for lawyers and other professionals). But I'll also be taking a transformative view of both the client and the coaching relationship. I'll be talking about what that means through materials on the site and some free calls in the coming months.

I'm thrilled to be able to take the blog and this work to another level, and look forward to continuing to
support you.

Thank you!


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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Radical Thought for Stressed Out Lawyers (and Other Professionals)

I'm a recovering lawyer.

That line usually gets a laugh, but I'm perfectly serious when I say it. Because so much about the legal profession is about win lose, about competition, about doing more and more and not seeing an end to that. It has taken me a lot of years to learn that there is a different way. And I still find myself tossed back into that win lose way of thinking from time to time.

Many years ago, new lawyers joined a firm knowing that for a few years they would work pretty hard.  And then they would become a partner, reaping the rewards of that work while regaining a sense of balance and meaning in their work.

That time is long gone. There is always more work to do. There is always more business to develop, no matter where you are in your career. And if you have a bad year in a bad economy you have to worry about not just your job, but even if your firm is going to make it.

There have been times when my lawyer friends lose sleep, lose hair, lose connection to their friends and loved ones because of the incredible demands of the profession.

I've lived it. I've been in that environment, where I saw that the only way for me to advance was to work harder, to bill more, to give up more and more of my evenings and weekends getting things done. And while I was cranking out hours and giving up my life, I was watching my work quality decline (another source of stress!) while recognizing the whole set up wasn't about meaning or mastery or feeling good about how my career was coming along.

It was about money.

So here's my radical thought--

All that pressure you feel, all that stress about measuring up, about making it, about getting further down the legal path, and even about what house you're going to buy and where you're going to send your kids to school when you make partner, is just a bunch of thoughts.

Your thoughts. Your thoughts about what you want and what other people want for you and from you.

And just like you can change your habits, you can, with some effort, change your thoughts.

The first step is to stop regularly, if only for a few moments, to notice what you are thinking and what impact it has on you. How your thinking makes you feel.

Just that noticing, done regularly, can completely change your life.


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Thursday, August 18, 2011

It's Time for Radical Honesty

I was talking with a friend about leadership. We've had the same experience at a few different places--

Leadership that wants to appear forthcoming, but still holds back.

An in group that knows what's really going on, but doesn't want to acknowledge it.

Organizations that are limited because the information people have, and their power to act on it, is limited.

People, companies, and governments that consistently disappoint.

I think it's time for a change, a time for radical honesty.

It's time to share as much as we possibly can within the bounds of the law and ethics.

It's time to never, ever, ever, make things seem better, or worse, than they really are.

It's time to communicate and act from a grounding of trust and love for each other, stakeholders, and the community. To be honest and respectful in all our dealings with each other. And to work to make all better off.

I recognize that people may ridicule the idea of love in the workplace or in society in general, but what's the alternative? We've just come through one of the most frightening financial scares since the Great Depression, and we could be on the verge of another one. Companies have toed the line of legality and propriety while actively courting customers (borrowers) who were not qualified. Governments have mortgaged our future. Ponzi schemes, whether going by the name Bernie Madoff or Enron or Medicare, abound.

It's time to return to a simple standard. Tell everyone exactly what we are doing and why. And let us be praised or scorned on that basis.

Winston Churchill once said that Americans can be counted on to do the right thing, once they've tried everything else. Feels like that time is now.

Interested in your thoughts.


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Thursday, August 11, 2011

My Upcoming Workshop on September 17

I know a lot of people who have started meditation, or been interested in starting meditation, and after a few sessions (or even no sessions at all), they give up. Maybe they understand the benefits that meditation can bring, but two persistent beliefs about meditation often get in the way.

The first is that meditation takes a long time.

The second is that meditation is hard.

Suppose we taught kids to ride bikes the way we teach adults to meditate. First off, forget helmets or training wheels. Get on the bike and try to ride it. Do that for twenty minutes. Or thirty. Don't worry of you fall--just get back up and try again. If you fall fifty times in twenty minutes, that's okay. Eventually, you'll fall less.

How many of us would make it past the first session.

That's basically what most meditation techniques are about--put in the time, don't worry if it's unpleasant, and eventually it will feel good.

I designed a workshop to do things differently.

We're going to learn and practice easy techniques that allow meditation--open, spacious, relaxed meditation--in only a minute or two. And we're going to talk about how to incorporate those techniques into a busy schedule. We'll also discuss the benefits of meditation and it and similar practices affect our brains and our response to stress. In short, why meditation is as important for our brains as exercise is for our bodies.

So if you've tried meditation and you're convinced you're bad at it, this is the class for you.

And if you'd like to meditate but you just can't find the time, this is also the class for you.

"Meditation for Busy People" is on Saturday, September 17 from 2-4 at Simon Says Yoga in Bethesda, MD.

Simon Says Yoga
4701 Sangamore Road
Suite PO21 (Second Floor)
Bethesda, MD 20816

(See directions here.)

It's only $35 in advance, $40 at the door. Please join us for two hours of exploration and fun.


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Friday, August 5, 2011

The Folly of Making Plans

I spend a lot of time making plans. Thinking about the future. Thinking that if I do things just right, I can control what's going to happen and fashion the life that I want.

As John Lennon alluded to ("Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans"), there are a couple major flaws in this reasoning.

First is the assumption that I can control things. I spend a lot of time making plans that do not come to fruition. I know there's a school of thought that says what we think about is what comes to pass, but I just don't see that in my life. I'll see something I like or think about a new city or a new title and really enjoy myself while building an imaginary scenario of what that might be like and how it would be better than what I have now. But chances are those things are not going to happen. Something completely different is going to happen. And often I'm not prepared for that, good or bad.

Second is that I know what's best for me. I might know what I want in a given moment, but it's pretty clear to me that what I want is not always what is best for me. I'd eat a lot less ice cream if that were the case! The notion that I have enough intelligence to choose what is best for me is a joke. The experiences where I've learned the most are those that have been most difficult, painful, even traumatic. And yet I'm pretty confident that I would not choose those experiences for me in advance. I'd rather have a convertible, or the other trappings of the good life, than the difficulties that seem to make for the grist of true, transformational learning. But life seems to have its own intelligence, presenting me with whatever is needed at the time. I have learned tremendously from that, but didn't plan any of it.

Planning is hard to let go of. And yet when I think about it for more than a few seconds, I see very clearly that planning and life are not very closely related. Sure, there are some things that we can do that might change our future. But often these things, like going to school or taking up running, are about building habits, not about planning.

What's left without planning? Waiting? Doing? Being?

Probably a bit of all three. But it's surprising to me how much space emerges when, even for a little bit, I can let go of my habit of planning.


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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Joy of Contribution

Why do you go to work in the morning? Why do you do what you do?

Most everyone has heard of the story of the three bricklayers. There are a lot of different versions, but the essence is this.

A man is walking through a town and comes across three bricklayers working at a construction site. He asks each of them what they are doing.

The first one says, "I am laying bricks." He even seems a bit miffed at the absurdity of the question.

The second one says, "I am building a wall."

The third one looks up with a smile on his face and says "I am building a cathedral."

I've often seen this story used to support the importance of understanding the big picture. But I think something more profound is going on here. As Dan Pink and others point out, one of the things that really fuels us is a sense of contributing to something bigger than ourselves. A mission. A purpose.

We all want to do good in the world. And yet our day-to-day work lives can sometimes feel like they beat the very life from us.

But so much of that is just our own thoughts about what is happening. About who is doing what to whom and why we think things should be different.

There's a couple of things to notice about thoughts. First, they are always changing, and sometimes you don't have them at all. Practices like meditation and yoga are to some extent about noticing when you have no thoughts, and creating more of those spacious, healing moments.

The second thing is that some thoughts serve you better than others.

It can be tempting to think about all the bad things that are going on at work and focus on all the ways that you would change things if only someone would give you permission. But think back to the excitement you felt when you started your job. I bet there was some greater good in the world that was part of the attraction.

Maybe you're like me and you want to make better health care available to more people. Maybe you want to share knowledge or beauty. Maybe you want to show people how they can lead from within.

Take a few moments each day and remind yourself why the bad stuff is worth it. And notice how your attitude and effectiveness change when you do.


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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Bodhisattva Ideal at Work

This is my first post in what I suspect will be a much less regular schedule of writing on The Corporate Zendo.

I'll talk about my new thinking for the blog and Facebook page in upcoming posts, but I want first to talk about something that is very important to me.

For the last hundred years or so, we in America have been operating under some assumptions that I think are just wrong--

That more is better, especially when it comes to money and possessions.

That success is about material things.

That there is a set of external circumstances and possessions that can produce lasting happiness.

That work, as currently constructed, is a vehicle for personal fulfillment.

If, as the Dalai Lama says, the purpose of life is happiness, we're doing a pretty shabby job. We may have more stuff, but it feels like we have given our time and health and happiness in return.

I think there's a better way. And I'd like your help.

In Buddhism, the bodhisattva is one who is dedicated to freedom and happiness for all beings. The bodhisattva even delays his own enlightenment so that others may be enlightened first. I think we need to think of ourselves as bodhisattvas at work, dedicated to freedom not only for our coworkers, but also for our employers.

Instead of spending hours of face time with nothing to show for it, we need to show how less time at work can make us more effective.

Instead of operating out of fear, we need to spread love.

Instead of defending and protecting, we need to be open and vulnerable.

Instead of dedicating ourselves and our companies to the pursuit of the mighty dollar, we need to find and work at companies that have a mission to do good, or create beauty, or provide knowledge in the world. And be confident that in doing those things, we will have more than enough.

If this is a mission that you believe in as much as I do, please spread the word. I want to build a movement. I want to change the world of work, and I passionately believe we can and must.

In building this movement, we can show more and more employees that it is possible to be happy and fulfilled at work, and more and more companies that some of the best employees want nothing less than an employer who will challenge them, and enable them, to do their very best.


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Friday, July 1, 2011

Resting and Recharging

This is going to be my last post for awhile. I'm taking a two week vacation with my family--no posts, no links to past posts, no Facebook, no Twitter. I'm also in a process of evaluating what's next for me, for this work, and for the blog. I suspect that means that I will be blogging less and exploring how to expand this community and this message in other ways.

I'd love to hear your ideas. I passionately believe not only that we can be happy at work, but that we are also more productive, creative, and connected when we are happy. To me, we can't keep working more and think that we're going to get more done in our sleep-deprived, fear-driven, caffeinated haze. At least not much of value. And while our employers are starting to figure that out, most are still stuck in thinking in the old ways, with the misguided perception that more is always better.

So if you think as I do, that our way of working needs a major makeover, and that everyone will benefit if it does, please pass this along, and send me any ideas that you have for growing this movement.

Thanks as always for reading the blog, and I'll see you in a few weeks.


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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Just Noticing, Part 4

This will be my last post on Just Noticing. I've been talking a lot about noticing your thoughts in different contexts. I know it is helpful for me to look at my reactions to people, my thoughts about myself, messages that we get from others and my thoughts about those messages.

And of course, we can also notice our thoughts at and about work. If you haven't already, I'd encourage you to take some time to do that.

Today, though, we're going to notice something different. Something that actually isn't there.

I want you to notice, to find, where all those thoughts are coming from. The silence from which everything emerges.

This noticing is a lifelong practice in some wisdom traditions. Some spend years in retreat meditating on it. 

But it can be powerful event to notice this for one breath. It can give us a sense of peace, and of calm. In the midst of turbulence, this silence, this space, is always available to us. This is the place where, moment by moment, our world is created. And many have said that to rest in it is the ultimate healing.


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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Just Noticing, Part 3

On Monday, we took a look at the thoughts we have about other people.

On Tuesday, we took a look at the thoughts we have about ourselves.

Today, notice all the messages that you get--through advertising, the Internet, the news media, and so on.

Some of those messages might be that one political party is good and another is bad. Or that you could be happier if you only purchased a certain brand of toothpaste or watch a particular TV show. Or that certain body types are more desirable than others, or certain lifestyles are better than others, or certain types of education or reading material or careers.

These messages might be a bit more subtle than the ones from the last couple of days, because you are not necessarily looking just at your thoughts. But notice that these messages turn into thoughts, which are followed by your reactions (also in the form of thoughts) Notice that your thoughts about the messages are probably different than the messages themselves.

You don't need to analyze this or make it overly complicated. Instead, just notice the messages and your reaction to them.

For example, when I'm at the mall, I notice there are a lot of very glamorous people in ads that have beautiful things. I notice a sense in me that I don't have these things, that something might be missing in my life, that I might be a more desirable person if I did have these things. Then I also notice a questioning in myself. Is that really true? Can I be a better person based on the things that I have?

What do you notice?

More tomorrow.


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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Just Noticing, Part 2

Today's experiment is similar to yesterday's.

Today, though, I want you to go to a quiet place, away from other people. Get comfortable, in a chair or on the floor. Whatever works.

For a few minutes, I want you to notice what you're thinking about, especially if it's a thought about you. Notice the stories that you are telling yourself.

Maybe you're thinking back about all the great things you've done. Maybe you're feeling good. Or maybe you're being judgmental of yourself.

I tend to think about things that I'm afraid to do. Or things I wish I could have done differently.

I think most of us tend to be pretty hard on ourselves. Harder, maybe, than we are on other people.

So here's the second part of today's experiment.

Whatever it is that you are afraid of, or that you regret, I want you to imagine that your best friend came to you and told you that he or she is dealing with the issue. This issue is now your best friend's, not yours.

And I want you to think about how you would be with your friend. The love, the caring, the understanding you would have. And now I want you to talk to yourself with the same caring and compassion, the same open gentle heart, that you would use with your best friend.

How does that feel? Can you be a little bit more kind with yourself? Can you forgive?

Can you, just for a moment, act as if you are your own best friend?

Try it and see.


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Monday, June 27, 2011

Just Noticing, Part 1

Here's an experiment you can try for a few minutes.

Go to a public place. A mall, a bookstore, a restaurant. Someplace with a lot of strangers.

Then walk or sit and people watch. Don't stare--we're not trying to get in a fight or creep anyone out. But I want you to notice the thoughts that pop into your head about each person you see.

When I do this, I notice how quickly I form conclusions about people. How quickly I assume that someone is nice, or a jerk. I sometimes write a story about them on the spot. Where they live, where they work. Whether their kids like them, whether they're a jerk in the office.

We do this all the time. This is what human brains do. They try to make sense of the world. They build models and draw conclusions.

But I have to ask myself, is this prejudice (which literally means means prejudgment) actually helpful?

I notice I even have a reaction to the label "prejudice."

I'm not sure that we can wire our brains to be different. But, as this exercise shows, we can at least notice how often we do it. And, once we are conscious of it, we can choose to give less weight to it.

Maybe the person who rushed past me is dealing with a sick relative. Maybe the person who glared at me just got off a difficult phone call.

Maybe, just like me, and just like you, everyone is trying to do their best. In each and every moment.


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Friday, June 24, 2011

Am I Really Too Busy?

The number one complaint I get from corporate types is that they're too busy. And it's true that we seem to be busier these days. And more stressed.

But I wonder if the issue isn't really that we're more distracted, not more busy. We have plenty to do, but there's also a lot that's competing for our attention.

You're reading a blog right now (and I thank you for that). But how many blogs do you read? How much time do you spend on email? Facebook? Twitter? How much time surfing the net? IMimg? And that's just online. What about reality TV, video games, trashy magazines? All the things you do at home to just zone out?

And don't forget my favorite, the time we spend complaining about how busy we are!

My experience is that when I say I'm too busy, I often mean something else. Here are three possibilities that resonate with me.

1. Lack of focus. It can be hard to stay focused, and it's natural to want to take breaks. Trouble is that with all the distractions around us, a short break can quickly turn into an hour.

2. Lack of enjoyment. Sometimes, we enjoy the distractions more than we enjoy our work. I find myself completely zoning out on conference calls, comforted by what I can find online. And yes, distractions can include the support and attention that we get from others when we complain about how busy we are.

3. Lack of energy.  Maybe we're not taking care of ourselves. If we don't get enough sleep or exercise, we can drag through the day. I know if I've not slept, my work day isn't about enjoyment, it's about survival.

When I feel a bit overwhelmed, typically one or more of these three things is going on. How about you?


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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Letting Go

What if for just one day you let go of the to do list and did whatever came up for you?

What if for just one day you dropped your "shoulds"?

What if for just one day, or one hour, or one moment, you let whatever was happening happen? With no need to control and no need for a particular result?

Would you do nothing?

Would you try something new? Or something you have been afraid of?

Is there any way to know what you would do without actually doing it?

Try it for a day, or an hour, or ten minutes.

And see if you can view whatever happens as exactly what was needed.


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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Brain Training

It's only been relatively recently that we've realized that physical exercise was of benefit to us.

It's pretty common to hear that someone is going to the club or gym to work out, or going to play tennis or basketball, for example. People walk or run and part of the reason that they do this is they expect some kind of benefit from it.

What's less common is that people will have, or talk about a mental practice.

I'm not sure why. There are people who take drugs to increase their concentration, for example, or to feel less depressed, but the idea that their is "brain exercise" or that there is a need for such exercise does not seem all that widespread.

And yet the benefits of even a simple and brief meditation practice are well-documented and undeniable. We can be calmer, with greater concentration and creatively. We can be less reactive and more kind. We can have more mental endurance. Our immune system function is enhanced and blood pressure is lowered. We experience less reactivity.

And the first step is just to notice what's happening. What's happening right now? What are your thoughts telling you? And how much of it is actually true? Do that a few minutes each day and you have a proven practice for training your brain.

Someday, maybe soon, "What kind of meditation do you practice?" will be just as common a question as "Where do you work out?" is today.


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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Doing and Not Doing

There has been a lot written about wu wei, or "not doing," in Taoism and other Eastern traditions.

The idea is that we don't have to consciously do things, that things in fact do themselves without conscious effort on our part. That this is in fact the ideal state.

On it's face, this seems ridiculous. And the mind will not hear of it. How could we live if we did not decide what we are doing, where we are going, what we want to be in life?

That is certainly our experience most of the time.

But I wonder if it has to be this way.

Sometimes, it seems that things really do just happen. Sometimes the things that just happen, the things that happen "while we are making other plans," as John Lennon put it, are wonderful. Sometimes they are tragic. But they do happen, enough for me to think sometimes, "why bother?"

Maybe Eisenhower had it right when he said that "planning is invaluable, but plans are useless." That once one is in the heat of battle no plan will last more than a few minutes.

An analogy might be jazz. The very best jazz musicians play the same scales over and over and over again. Their preparation is legendary. And yet, in the moment of a performance, they don't know what they're going to play. They are just as surprised as we are. Many say that they are so in the moment that they don't remember what they played, and might not even recognize it when it is played back to them.

So the paradox is to be totally prepared and totally spontaneous. To simply let go in each moment, knowing that whatever happens is the only thing that could happen, given the preparation that we have done.

Life, in other words, has perfectly prepared us for this next moment. And yet, we have no idea what that moment will bring.


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Monday, June 20, 2011

Making a Difference

I'm sometimes asked if I think meditation and my work with different spiritual teachers has made a difference in my life, and my work life in particular.

It's a difficult question to answer, because there's no real way to know for sure. But this is what I feel--

I am calmer and more focused.

I am more honest and willing to be vulnerable.

I am more aware of what's actually happening versus what's "my stuff."

And I'm less reactive when my stuff comes up. Let's face it, any time there is an emotional reaction to something, chances are there is some stuff for you in there if you look for it. If you can see that and just ride it out instead of attacking or defending, it can make a huge difference.

How does this make a difference at work? When I can set aside my worries and my agenda, I can focus on the other person. I can listen. The other person feels heard and valued. I'm worried about them rather than defending me. I can do my very best to meet their needs, to help solve their problems. And we both win when that happens.

I am sometimes selfish and unkind and gossipy. But in other moments, in moments of clarity that happen more and more, I'm able to establish connection and trust. And that changes everything.

Did those changes happen overnight? No, and in some ways I feel like they're only beginning.


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Friday, June 17, 2011

Just Ten Percent

Imagine you could go through your work day ten percent less stressed. Or with ten percent more time. Or ten percent more energy or focus. Do you think that could make a difference?

When I think about transformation, sometimes it seems so daunting. I automatically think it has to be some huge change to make the effort worthwhile. I think that if I do the right things, with enough effort, I can turn "always unhappy" into "always happy." Or turn from primitive ape into enlightened sage. Most of the time it doesn't seem to happen like that.

But it doesn't have to, either.

Ten percent may feel like just a little bit, but if the world was just ten percent better, I'm convinced it would be almost unrecognizable.

The truth is that any of us can remake the entire world into one that has more joy, peace and love. When I am in a cranky place, I can't believe how grumpy and vindictive everyone is. But if I'm acting from my heart, the whole world is in love. It's through our own efforts that this happens. I can't tell you how many years I waited for the difficult people in my life to change. And yet when I began to change, I see it's not them, it's just my thoughts about them that are the problem.

They're trying their best, just like me. Even a glimpse of that is transformational. And worth every effort we put into it.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Just Busy

I've got a lot going on this week. I'm busy. I find my first inclination is to blame people when that happens. Maybe someone is late on something owed to me, or someone misunderstood something I said.

It turns into stress pretty quickly. And I find I'm quite good at questioning others' competence or motives, deflecting blame, getting defensive, and a host of other time-honored and not very honorable strategies.

But being busy doesn't mean that something is wrong.

And I generally find a way to get everything done that really needs to get done.

I find I'm more productive if I take breaks rather than push through. And more pleasant to be around, too. Today, I even got to the end of a major deliverable and took a 20 minute nap before moving on to the next one. I know I had some insights that I would not have had if I had pushed through, caffeinated, and worked without taking some time to breathe.

It's OK to be busy. Sometimes, it's just what's happening.

And when busy happens, we do our best and move on.


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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Seeing Through the Dream

For a long time, not only did I not think about what I wanted, it didn't even occur to me to think about what I wanted.

Sure, I might want a gadget here and there. A new toy or a set of golf clubs. But the more fundamental questions, like where do I want to live, what do I want to do, were always driven by things that I perceived were outside of me.

Like my parents' expectations, or the pressure of other people. I was smart and successful in school. What do smart successful people do? They go to more school. They become lawyers. They go to big cites. They buy big houses in the suburbs. Their kids go to private schools. Maybe they add on a summer home and exotic vacations. They live the upper middle class version of the American dream.

There is nothing wrong with any of this, except for the fact that, for me, it was ultimately unsatisfying. There are a lot of people who figure out the emptiness of the path of achievement a lot earlier than I did. There are a lot of people who figure out that stuff doesn't make you happy (and even imprisons you) a lot sooner than I did.

But my repeated mistakes gave me the advantage of learning those lessons very, very thoroughly.

You want to know why the big house isn't satisfying? I can tell you, because I have one.

You want to know why striving for and getting the partnership in the big consulting firm is unsatisfying? I can tell you about that, too.

I can tell you about the insecurity of a life based on status rather than connection. I can tell you a lot about what not to do. But unless you've seen it yourself, you're probably not going to listen. I know I didn't. I kept thinking that fulfillment would come with the next thing, and failing to see what I had right in front of me.

I used to think that people who talked about that path not being satisfying were just people who couldn't hack it. Now I know better. I could hack it. I did hack it. For a lot of years. Until I saw that, for me, it wasn't bringing satisfaction.

But the difference now is I see I don't need to get satisfaction from my job, or in my stuff. I can find fulfillment right here, no matter what is happening. I don't always see that. I don't always remember. But more and more, I see that the only source of frustration, and the only thing between me and happiness, is my own thoughts.

In many ways, I am still doing the same things and living the same life that I always have. But at the same time it couldn't be more different.


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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Lessons from the 28 Day Challenge

I've meditated almost every day in some form for a lot of years, but my wife Jen, while a devoted yoga teacher and practitioner and sometime meditator, has been wanting to develop a daily practice.

We resolved to sit together for 10 minutes as part of the 28 day challenge. Most days we did. As we got further into the challenge, we got more consistent. And now we really enjoy it.

But the interesting thing is that the biggest beneficiary of our sitting together may not be either one of us. Instead, it might be our 12-year old, Caelan.

Before we began sitting, Caelan's energy was always very high coming into bedtime. He was always asking for more time for a snack or to do something that absolutely had to happen right then. (Like the time he needed thirty minutes to cut his toenails because they were distracting him.)

Jen strategically decided that we would sit at 9:20 each night. Caelan goes to bed at 9:30, and could use the time to get ready. The first few nights naturally brought some resistance. He wanted our attention, particularly Jen's.

We had to explain a few times what we were doing and why. And he began to get it. Interestingly, he often finishes brushing his teeth early and sits quietly with us. Not on a cushion, and sometimes looking at a book, but he likes the energy. He likes being quiet and then going to bed feeling more settled.

And he's started falling asleep faster, too.

Is every night perfect? Absolutely not. Some nights sitting is a challenge for all of us. But it's so much better in just the four weeks since we started.

Fourteen of you officially "declared" that you were taking the challenge. I'm not sure how many others might have at least tried to sit here and there. I'm interested if there were any surprises? Any benefits that you might not have anticipated going in?

For those of you who didn't start, or weren't as consistent as you would like, here are some final words of advice from Sharon Salzberg.

"The most important thing is just to do it. The everydayness is more important than every session being lengthy. And remember that every session will be different. You haven't fallen down, you haven't failed because you were less concentrated today than yesterday."

"You can always go back to five minutes. You can always begin again."

Thanks in advance for sharing here or on Facebook.


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Monday, June 13, 2011

Dog Days

It's been close to a hundred degrees here in the DC area for the last few days. And it's not even summer yet.

It can be tempting to think that nothing should change when it gets this hot. But I know that even with air conditioning, I don't sleep as well. When I get to the office, it takes a few minutes to air out. Lunch tends to be shorter, closer, less healthy. Going home, the people on the train are damp and cranky.

This is how it is when it's hot.

So cut yourself a break. Slow down. Push yourself a little less. Recharge. I feel a bit guilty when I do that, but I also find I feel better.

Respect your energy cycles and in the long run, you'll get more done. It will cool down again. You can work more then.


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Friday, June 10, 2011

And Then What?

We double sales.

And then what?

We roll out our new products.

And then what?

We bill more hours.

And then what?

Everything we do, everything in the plan, seems to be about doing more, making more.

Is that satisfying? It might get us our paychecks. It might get us some nice stock options or a healthy bonus.

But is it satisfying? Is the stuff that the money buys satisfying? Is pushing ourselves to our absolute limits, slowly killing ourselves with stress, to squeeze out another five percent, then another two percent, then another half a percent satisfying?

What about the people we meet? What about the problems we solve, the insights we have, the joy of creation?

Where are those things in the plan?


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Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Opportunities in Toxic Work Environments

As the economy has continued to sputter, many of us have seen a decline in the quality of our work life. Maybe the company hasn't been doing well, or there have been layoffs or restructurings. Maybe all of those things are happening, or there's just a sense of our employer losing its mojo, the swagger and confidence it once had.

On the one hand, we're struggling with these changes. On the other, we feel lucky to have a job, and might feel powerless to challenge what clearly have become difficulties. When that happens, the uncertainty of the future, and our own apparent lack of control, hits us harder than usual. This is an opportunity.

When we're uncertain, we can become afraid, tentative. We can treat people differently that we usually do. We can retreat into a shell, hoping to get some kind of protection. Fear can lead us toward all sorts of nasty things that we think are helping, but are actually having the opposite effect.

It can be helpful to notice our own reactions in these times. Are we feeling like running away? Are we snippy and defensive? Do we feel helpless? What other things show up for us?

Here are four things to do more of when times are difficult at work.

1. Stop. Take a breath. The purpose of this is not to stop working or to escape. Instead, it's to interrupt the pattern that we're frustrated with, whether that's anger or escape. Every time we catch ourselves is a victory. And even if we miss one or two (and we will), we're no worse off than we were before.

2. Look. Take a close look at what is happening in that moment. It's easy to say an entire environment is toxic, but is it really that? Or is it one or two people, or one or two situations, that cause problems for you?

3. Listen. What are your thoughts about the situation? What stories are you telling yourself? Are they true? If you hear as story that "this company's going down the toilet," for example, is that really true? If you're thinking "I can't lose my job, I'll starve," can you see that's probably not true? Whatever your thoughts, what are the two or three facts that are leading you to think that? Are there different interpretations of those facts? Are there other facts that might suggest a different conclusion?

4. Choose. Given what you're observing, both about yourself and the situation, what's the best response? It may not be what you have instinctively done in the past. You may not be able to choose your thoughts, but with some effort, you can decide to respond to them differently.

Maybe you could apologize to a person for being cranky or stressed with her. Maybe you can notice that  another person seems to be struggling. "You seem to be frustrated right now," can open up an opportunity to deal with some of the feelings that arise.

It may be difficult to do this at first. But stepping into a position of vulnerability can create a sense of profound connection with the other person. And we can discover that while we may have different interpretations of what's happening, we're not in opposition.

Certainly, one way of thinking about a toxic work environment is as a burden to be overcome. But another, maybe just as powerful, is to see it as an opportunity for practice.

I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences.


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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Stressed for Success

Our society seems to think that the way that we succeed is to work all the time. We press the accelerator to the floor so that we can get to our destination faster and faster.

And then we break down.

Even the best sports car needs gas, oil, and maintenance. We need to take the time to fuel up, to sleep, to step away from what we are doing to get another perspective.

We want to think that with the right combination of sugar, caffeine, and other chemicals, we can go 24/7, or close to it. But the more we push, the more likely we end up ineffective at best, exhausted and sick at worst.

What we need is rest. What we need is play. What we need is to use our natural reset button.

It's only in finding the right combination of effort and recovery that we maximize our chances for success.


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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Better than Perfect

I want you to think of me in a certain way. And I'm betting that if we met, you'd want me to think of you in a particular way, too. (You might even think that as you're writing a comment or asking a question.)

I have an image of myself, some things that I want to believe are true. I want you to believe them, too. That I'm smart and warm and friendly. That I care deeply about your happiness. That I'm happy all the time.

I think that's what you expect from me. So that becomes what I expect of myself. And I have no idea why.

Because I'm not that person, I'm always afraid that I will be found out. That someone will figure out I'm not that perfectly projected persona. So I think you want me to be something that I'm not, try to pretend that I am, and then worry that you'll figure it out.

Why is that? I know I'm not perfect all the time. I'm pretty sure that's true of most other people, too. I can get tired, cranky, defensive, and ineffective. If I try to be what I think someone else wants, I end up not liking myself very much, and then not liking them much, either.

But whenever I just let myself be what I am, and do what I do, regardless of what I think other people think, everything seems to work out a lot better. Amazingly, people seem to like the real me more than the me that I try to make up for their benefit.

Turns out the mask I put on, the one that is trying to protect me from all the bad stuff out there, ends up also keeping a lot of good stuff in here. And when the mask comes off, as scary as that is, what emerges is so much better that the stuff I was trying to make up.


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Monday, June 6, 2011

The Challenge: Week Four

For the last week of our meditation challenge with teacher Sharon Salzberg, the focus is on lovingkindness.

For most people, this is a little different focus. It may also be a term that's new.

Lovingkindness is simply cultivating feelings of love and compassion while in meditation. First, we do this for ourselves, and then we do it for other people.

"Sometimes, I describe concentration as steadying our attention, and mindfulness as refining our attention, in that some of the things that normally clutter up or distort our attention get cleared away," Sharon says. "Lovingkindness I often describe as opening our attention or playing with our attention in that it is an experiment in paying attention in a different way."

There are a couple ways of doing this.

"If you have a tendency to look at yourself at the end of the day as though to say 'how did I do today?' you might remember only the stupid thing you said at lunch at the meeting. So much so that your sense of self collapses around the stupid thing you did."

"The practice of lovingkindness is to say 'did anything else happen? Anything good?' The bad is not all we are, ever."

We're looking at ourselves in a different, more compassionate way. "We're challenging that collapse, that identification with only what is wrong with us."

We can do lovingkindness with other people, too, and the book has a lot of ideas around this.

"An example might be all the people we disregard, looking through other people who don't count, not in prejudice or bias, but through indifference. We ask ourselves what happens when we really pay attention to this person, when we really look at them, when we really listen instead of ignoring them. The practice of lovingkindness is doing this with ourselves and with other people."

I'm new to this practice, but have found it incredibly powerful. It has helped me see myself and other people in a more loving, generous way. I hope it is the same for you, and that you have enjoyed this meditation journey and will continue it.

Please feel free to comment here or on the Facebook page about your experiences.


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Friday, June 3, 2011

Firm Ground

There are a few things I know.

I know that when I truly look at my experience, when I examine it closely, when I peer into the silence that occasionally arises, I see nothing. A vast, all encompassing nothing.

I know there's nothing I know. That there is nothing, seemingly, that I even can know. (Nothing that can be put into words, anyway.)

I know I want to know, and I want to believe that someone somewhere knows.

So when someone or something claims to know, I'm very tempted to believe.

These knowers go by many names. Politicians and political parties, religions and preachers and theologians, commentators and philosophers and ethicists. CEOs, even. Parents. Friends.

All trying to come up with an explanation, or rules of the road that apply to them and everyone else. For those of us who are not so gifted. And often these knowers judge those who don't know, or who think differently.

Some claim to know what we should do. What is right and wrong. What the future holds.

And I really want to believe them. I really want to believe that someone knows.

I've met plenty of people I wanted to believe, and some who I did believe. And they didn't know.

None of them knew. Sometimes it took me awhile to figure this out, but it always happened eventually, And the ones who seemed to be most confident, most articulate, most capable turned out to be the ones who were least likely to have a clue.

I want firm ground. And there is none to stand on.

At first that was terrifying. Because that means I'm in charge (and so are you). That means I have total freedom (and so do you). No rules. No expectations. No limitations. No failure, and no success. Just experience.

Just this.


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Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Flip of a Coin

One of my favorite coaches, Michael Neill, sometimes advises people to flip a coin when they are having trouble making a difficult decision.

Why? Is he really leaving what could be a major life choice up to chance?

Not at all. Try it. See how you feel when the coin lands. What I find is that I end up rooting for head or tails, or I'm excited or disappointed when the coin lands.

When this happens, I know what I really want. Not what I think I should want. And then I can do that.

And you can too.


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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

My Conversation with Teacher Scott Kiloby

Recently, I got a chance to spend an hour with teacher Scott Kiloby. The recording can be found here, and Scott's introduction at his Kilologues page here.

Scott is one of my favorite teachers. He points people to what he calls, among other things, "freedom." The simple space of just being. Who we are without our stories and concepts.

Scott and I met late last winter when he visited the DC area. Until recently, he was a practicing attorney in Indiana. Our conversation is wide ranging, about the corporation as a structure that, like any, can be seen through, about how noticing freedom can ease our struggles at work, and about Scott's own story, which was, in his words, an addiction to feeling special.

I hope you enjoy.


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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Challenge: Week Three

Week three of the meditation challenge is similar to the mindfulness on the body approach of week two, with a slightly different focus.

"In week three," Sharon says, "we take that same quality of open spacious interested awareness and apply it to our emotions and thoughts."

What if we're having trouble with the challenge? Meditation is a habit, like any other, and it can be tough to add it to our daily routine. What should we be looking for as encouragement?

"We're building the capacity to be with thoughts and emotions. The opening to the body can be very enriching." And if you're having trouble, Sharon suggests walking meditation. "You may well feel more alive and connected to your experience." Particularly if you have trouble with nodding off!

You'll also begin to "be able to see the difference between when you're connected and when you're not. And you see that you have a choice. "

How is week three similar to week two?

"In many ways it’s very similar. It’s like we’re building the capacity to be with thoughts and emotions by being with the body."

In earlier weeks, we tried our best to let go of any emotions that came up. Week three is different. "When a strong emotion comes up, not a wispy thing, but with a bang, you turn your attention to it. You might try labeling it, anger, anger, joy, joy, and you try to make the distinction between the emotion and the story."

"You might see what the emotion feels like in your body. If it’s lasting a bit you might look at the feeling in your body. Or you can ask what is anger? What are you feeling? What’s going on? When we pay attention, you might see that anger is more than one thing."

At the same time, though, Sharon suggested we not delve into the story we tell ourselves about why we're feeling a certain emotion. So it's more about the quality of the emotion than the story behind it.

"I would try to set aside the story. It’s not like it’s not worth doing ever. You might want to do it at another time. But it’s also the case that you might have an intuition, you just sense 'oh, that’s a pattern.'"

So while we can have insights, we don't necessarily look for them. We just observe the quality of our experience.

Please let me know how the challenge is going for you, through comments here or on the Facebook page. And remember that you can always begin, and you can always begin again.


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Friday, May 27, 2011

Only Us

I spend a lot of my life thinking about "them" (the people who are different than me) and "us."

Yet whenever I meet one of "them," I am struck by how similar we are. 

Still, I find myself constantly separating the world into us and them. In fact, in the course of a typical day I'll have several thems. I could have a them who look different than I do, who believe differently, who act differently, who work at a different company, vote differently, or even cheer for a different sports team. 

Sports competitions are based on "us" and "them." And so are wars.

On Memorial Day, I'm going to try to remember how similar we are to them. Any "them" at all.

We all want the same things. We want to be happy, we want to be safe, we want to be loved.

And we want peace.

Happy Memorial Day.


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Thursday, May 26, 2011

On Not Knowing

I notice that a lot of the time I write because I want to feel smart. I write because I want attention. I write because I want to feel special. When I'm writing from that place I tend to do a lot of planning and editing and thinking, to make sure that I capture my thoughts as clearly as I can.

I don't tend to like those posts.

There are other times when the posts practically write themselves. When there is passion. When there is an idea that needs to be expressed and all I am doing is the typing.

Even though I don't feel those posts are mine (I don't know whose they are), they feel a lot more real to me. A lot more true.

I'd like to think that I'm in control of turning that on or off. But I have no idea when and where it's going to show up. Often, I have no idea what I'm going to write even as I begin to write it.

It strikes me that life can be like that, too.

We can make plans and plot everything out and get everything on our list, and it ends up feeling cold and empty. Or we can just go for it, not knowing where it's coming from or what will happen.

I don't know if one is better or not, but I know which one I like.


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Raging Rapids

Last weekend, my wife Jen and I were on a weekend retreat with Pema Chodron, perhaps our best-loved American-born Buddhist teacher. Pema often offers good advice about working with the lessons life gives us, but there were a couple nuggets, as always, that really struck me.

Right now it feels like there is so much happening. Chaos at work and in personal relationships and around the world. Emotions and tensions running rampant. I feel like I'm being buffeted by a storm, and a lot of people I know have similar feelings.

When I feel like I don't know what's happening or what's next, the first thing I do is look for solid ground. Something to hold onto, to call my own. It seems to be instinct, to think that first, there is something solid to hang onto, and second, that we can find it and grab it.

Pema reminded us this weekend, though, that when the water is running fastest, when the rapids are at their whitest, the safest thing to do is let go. Let the river carry you. If you try to cling, to anything, the current is just going to pound you against the rocks.

True, you may not always like what happens when you let go, but you will eventually emerge. And you may be surprised by what comes when you allow your life to be more in flow.

See if this is true in your own life. I know it's been true in mine. The way past troubles is not around, but through. Go right into the difficulties, right into the white water. When I hang on, when I resist what is, I only hurt myself.


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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Afraid to Be Happy

Right now I feel like I'm afraid to be happy. If, as the Dalai Lama says, the purpose of life is to be happy, then if I find happiness, why would I ever do anything again?

I've constructed this idea of a life in which I'm trying to get to happiness by assembling the right ingredients.  If only I can get the right spouse, the right job, a house in the right neighborhood, the right kids and pets, the right schools and cars and other stuff, and of course enough money to take care of everything and everyone, then, and maybe only then, I think, happiness can be mine. And I spend most of my waking hours doing things that I think will help me assemble this life. Once I put the finishing touches on that life, I think, I'll be happy. More importantly, I sometimes think I can't be be happy until I have that life, or I'm at least comfortable that I'm on the path to it. Any happiness felt right now risks my not getting that greater happiness that will come once I have done the things I should.

My actual life (not the one that I'm plotting out moment by moment in my head) is very different. In my actual experience, the moments of happiness I have are almost completely unrelated to the happy life that I am trying to construct. These moments spontaneously appear. A sunset. A smile. A touch. A forgotten song. Happiness seems to sneak in when I least expect it. When I'm not looking for it. When I'm not trying to be anywhere but right here.

In these moments I see that happiness is actually my natural state. And when I really understand my happiness isn't dependent on anything outside of me, I notice I have a lot more options. If only for a moment, I see the only obstacle is in my mind--my restrictive concept of what a happy life should look like. And I see that my left brain--the list maker--hasn't been very good at creating happiness.

But my left brain, my inner control freak, is terrified of giving up. It resists with every ounce of its being the idea that it's not in control and never was. That happiness doesn't follow a blueprint and it doesn't happen in the future. That the universe seems to be doing just fine without my left brain's opinions and plans.

When I'm present, here in my body, the left brain is mercifully silent. And my happiness is self-evident. I see that I can do anything without risking this happiness. I can go for the biggest thing imaginable, or the smallest, because I know I'll be happy no matter what--resting in this eternal present moment, our natural state, where nothing is needed and nothing is missing.

That kind of happiness is worth pursuing. And yet it only seems available when I stop chasing it.


Monday, May 23, 2011

The Challenge: Week Two

If you've been part of the 28 Day Meditation Challenge, congratulations on completing your first week. If you've not, remember that you can start any time.

This week is a slight change in focus from week one.

"In week two," Sharon says, "We’re working with mindfulness, or an open, unbiased awareness, especially of the body and things we experience in our bodies.

I asked Sharon how mindfulness and concentration (our work in Week One) are different. "Mindfulness and concentration are very related but they are also distinct. They build on each other. When your primary goal is concentration, whenever something comes that is not related to the breath or object of concentration, what we want to do is let go of that something as quickly as possible. We’re not trying to look more clearly at that object, we’re just letting go and coming back, letting go and coming back."

In contrast, she says, "Interest is one of the hallmarks of mindfulness."

"The practice of mindfulness begins to include some of these other objects. If a sensation in the body comes up, like a twinge in the back, maybe we stay with it before coming back to the breath. Maybe we can see if we can stay with it in the moment for a bit."

Sharon says that in doing this, we begin to notice "those sensations are not as solid and static as they might appear." In fact, she says that we can begin to see a space within them, even "the space within the pain."

When do we take an interest in something? Not if it is fleeting, or "wispy," she says.

"If something is strong enough to take the attention away from the breath, we take an interest in it, and only then return our attention to the breath."

We can use mental noting to label what is happening, repeating "pain, pain" to ourselves, for example. In this way, we can walk a line between noticing the sensations and believing our stories about the sensations, that we can't live with this twinge or we need to see the doctor or the chiropractor or wondering what will happen if it continues. 

In this way we look for what Sharon calls the "add ons." In the moment, the sensation may be right here and quite manageable. But for people with pain, she says, it isn't what's happening right now that is the problem. We get caught up in the story of what might happen in the future. 

"It's all the anticipated pain. And that becomes unbearable."

This week, we will focus on mindfulness, and the goal is to have four sessions of twenty minutes or so.

Please share how things are going for you by commenting here or on the Facebook page.


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Friday, May 20, 2011

Bad Moods and Belching

[Jeff and his wife are in retreat this weekend. This post originally ran on March 23, 2010.]

Everyone belches. And everyone gets in bad moods.

But most people treat them very differently. You may say "That's because they are different!" But are they? Like moods, belches arise and then pass. And sometimes they catch us by surprise or even embarrass us.

When people belch, they say "excuse me" and move on. If our boss belches, we don't tend to think about it a month later and hold a grudge about it.

But if our boss is in a bad mood, or if we are in a bad mood, we tend to hold onto it.

The other day I got really, really angry. I slammed my hand to the table, and I wanted to yell and scream. The situation was one that sometimes provokes this response and sometimes doesn't. Ten minutes later, though, the anger was gone.

Like a belch, it arose, it came out, it left. But there are times that I hang onto that mood. I blame myself for it. I think of it as part of me. I don't do that with a belch. Heck, sometimes I even laugh at myself after a belch. I rarely laugh at myself after a bad mood or an angry comment.

Let's try to be less hard on ourselves when we get really cranky. And let's be less hard on others when they are cranky. Like a belch, it happens to all of us. And like a belch, it can be forgotten. And forgiven.


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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Thoughts on Meditation from Scott Kiloby

I had a great conversation yesterday with Scott Kiloby, a spiritual teacher whose work I really like.

Look for more details in a future post. But part of our conversation was about meditation, and the value of it and other practices like yoga and tai chi.

Like Dan Pink, Scott finds a lot of value in those practices. He was a meditator for years. But interestingly, that isn't what he teaches.

And depending on your experience in the meditation challenge, this might be something to think about.

Scott's experience was that his periods of meditation, first thing in the morning, were very peaceful. But his work day continued to be incredibly hectic. Simply put, there was no carryover from meditation to real life.

Instead, Scott works with people to look at what is happening right now. Do the problems that you find in your thoughts exist right now? Is your concept of self, of what should be happening, here in any kind of solid and permanent way in this moment?

In this way, Scott shows that much of our life is feelings, thoughts and sensations that come and go. And that it is only the background of open, spacious awareness that is unchanged, and that is actually what we are.

We clearly benefit by setting aside some time for meditation. But according to Scott, it is just as important to stop, several times a day, if only for a few moments, to notice the open spaciousness that is present behind all experience. To stop in the midst of everyday experience might be the most important skill we can cultivate, whether we meditate or not.

I look forward to sharing more of our conversation.


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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

I Am Just a Habit

Much of what we do in the world can be reduced to habits. I have a morning routine, and a commuting routine, and a routine for going through my email.

These routines are helpful and productive. Some of my other habits, though, might not be so productive.

For example, when there's a delicious chocolate birthday cake in the refrigerator (as there is right now), I tend to eat it. When a glass of wine is offered, I tend to accept.

There's another habit of mine that's more subtle, but probably causes more suffering than any habit I can think of. And I suspect you might have the same habit, too.

It's my habit of thinking I am a separate and stable identity. A person independent from the rest of the world.

I think about this "me" in terms of my history, my wife, my friends, my enemies, my job, and of course, my stuff. But if I really examine this identity, I see it's just a bunch of thoughts. Thoughts that I can't even control much of the time. On a fundamental level I know this, so I spend a lot of time and effort trying to make my thoughts, my "personhood," seem like a consistent, stable, and kind being who does good in the world, even though my actual experience is often different from that, and sometimes completely perplexing.

What happens when I take a break from that, if only for a moment or two?

The first temptation is to say that I don't exist, that we're all one or connected or something like that. But that's just another story, another set of thoughts diametrically opposite the thoughts that were causing me suffering. And those thoughts cause suffering, too. Because while I can't say I have an identity, paradoxically I can't say I don't have one, either.

No, when there is a break, there is simply this. Whatever is happening, without any need to interpret or control. No need for my stories, no resistance to my stories if they arise. Just life as it is happening.

And while I can't force this break from myself, I certainly welcome it when it happens.


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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

How and What

Last week, I was part of a corporate planning session, looking at the elements of our strategy, new products and initiatives that we believe are necessary in a changing market, and the timing and staffing of each of those priorities.

It was a very logical exercise. But I wonder if logic is what's really called for. The left brain is very good at figuring out how to do stuff. You want to figure out the seventeen things you need to do to execute your strategy, the left brain is your friend.

But if you want to figure out what that strategy should be, the left brain isn't much help. Sure, you can look at the research, and you can look at what your competitors are doing.

Following trends, though, doesn't show you what's next. Looking in the rearview mirror isn't a very effective way to drive.

To see what's next, to lead, you need the right brain. The nonlinear, big picture, intuitive leap right brain.

My fears are twofold. First, that our organization will not see the need for the right brain. And second, that I won't have the courage to show them.


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Monday, May 16, 2011

The Challenge: Week One

Today is the start of our 28-day meditation challenge with Sharon Salzberg, based on her book, Real Happiness.

Sharon's instructions for meditation are simple and direct. "In week one," she says, "we’re really working with concentration. Most of us experience ourselves as fairly distracted or scattered, at least in some arenas. In week one we’re deepening a greater steadiness or steadfastness of attention."

The practice is to sit in a comfortable position, cross-legged or in a chair for example, and watch the breath. We notice the sensations of the breath entering and leaving our body, how it feels, the temperature of the breath, any noise it makes, any tension we might feel in our bodies as we breathe, and so on. And if our attention wanders, when we notice, we simply bring our awareness back to the breath, gently and without judgment.

Following the breath sounds like it should be simple, but for most people, attention tends to wander quickly, and often.

"It’s important to have the right expectations. Your attention will wander. It won’t be 800 breaths before your mind will wander. It will be two or three. That’s just going to happen. It’s normal and to be expected."

But, Sharon adds, "The crucial part of the meditation is the moment that you realize your attention has wandered."

"That’s the moment where it’s very tempting to judge ourselves, to get down on ourselves, to berate ourselves, but instead we can practice gently letting go and beginning again. Even if your mind wanders a billion times in that 20 minute period, it’s not considered a failed meditation because that beginning again moment is so important."

Sharon recommends three periods of meditation in the first week, starting slowly at first. "My idea of a good goal is about twenty minutes a day of formal practice. But if you can only do five minutes on a certain day, do the five minutes."  

It will be tempting to evaluate yourself, to wonder how you're doing and if you are doing it well. Sharon says this is very common, but we have to have a different view. "It’s not a question of better or worse. That’s just the habit of our conditioning."

"It’s easier if we can quantify it," she continues. "It’s much more satisfying in many ways. We can say to a friend, 'I started out being with two breaths and now I’m up to 58.'"

But the real goal is something different, and more subtle. "To say we are much more gentle in the letting go process or that I start over again with more and more compassion for myself is much more difficult to do."

If you decide to take up this challenge, congratulations! Be gentle on yourself, and know that whether you are focused or your mind wanders, there are no mistakes. Every experience in meditation is welcomed and then released, no matter if it is pleasant or unpleasant, "good" or "bad."

Please let me know if you decide to take up the challenge, and how it's going, through comments here or on the Facebook page. 

And remember to have fun with this grand experiment.


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Friday, May 13, 2011

A 28-Day Challenge with Sharon Salzberg

I've been a long time meditator (almost 15 years) and I've said before that nothing has had a bigger impact on my life.

A couple weeks ago, I got a chance to sit down with Sharon Salzberg and talk about meditation and about her book, Real Happiness, which is structured around a 28 day introduction to meditation. We have a small group that meets at our home in the DC area, and we've all have committed to work through this book for the next 28 days. I'd like to offer this blog community the same opportunity, and Sharon has graciously agreed to offer us guidance along the way.

The challenge is simple. For the next four weeks, commit to a five to twenty minute period of seated or walking meditation a few times a week. Each week the focus will be slightly different, and the amount of  practice will increase slightly. At the end of the 28 days, a person should be ready to start a daily meditation practice. (It's kind of like training for a marathon, but one for your mind and well being.)

I asked Sharon why we should do this. Why meditate? We want things so fast in our culture. We want guaranteed, fast, clear results. And meditation offers none of these things.

"That's a problem," she laughed. "But the research shows the brain changes quickly, in as little as a month." Even if we don't notice the changes, she added.

What kind of changes? "Rather than being lost in self-recrimination for a week and a half, you can much more quickly let go," Sharon said.  "I’m going to start over, I’m going to begin again. There are all kinds of things like that in your day to day life."

Why 28 days?

"The best thing is to have some kind of structure. If you can have a structure that feels OK to you, you can try it out and see it as a grand experiment, wholeheartedly, for this limited period of time."

Sharon also said that if you have a structure, you're not so likely to focus on how you're doing each moment.  You're not really meditating, then; you're checking to see if you're meditating. She also emphasizes that the important thing is not how each meditation is going. "The place to look is not while you're doing it, but in your life."

I've never read a book on meditation that is more plain spoken, or easier to follow.

"As a friend of mine told me," Sharon said, "'You wrote this one in American.'"

I encourage you to take up this practice for 28 days, and to comment on your experience on The Corporate Zendo Facebook page.

The challenge officially begins on Monday. Have a great weekend.


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Thursday, May 12, 2011

What I Believe

I believe that we live to connect with others.

I believe that connection is one of the most precious, sacred things in existence.

I believe that my ability to make that connection is what makes me valuable to an employer, or a client.

Not my ability to cold call or write a Power Point deck or deliver a presentation or implement a project plan. I can do those things, but so can lots of other folks. What I can also do is establish trust. Heartfelt, fall on a grenade for you trust. Only with trust can people deliver fundamental change through identifying values and shattering assumptions.

Whether I find that in my current employer, in a future employer, or as a consultant working with employers, I believe that's what is next for me.

I would love to hear what is next for you. If you believe as I do, let's build it together.


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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

How to Get Unstuck

Right now, I'm feeling stuck. Whichever way I turn, I don't know what to do. There's so much going on in the world, so much upheaval, and it's so unclear if it's good or bad.

I want to know what the story is.

I want to know how things are going to turn out.

I want to know if we're going to be attacked again. I want to know if my company is going to have more reorganizations.

I want to know if all of this serves some higher purpose, if there is some sense of relief or closure that will come at some point, even though my deepest sense is that this uncertainty is permanent, because uncertainty, not knowing, is the natural state of things.

I don't feel stuck often, but it's uncomfortable when I do. And there's only one thing that works for me when I do get stuck.

And that is to see that, no matter how real it feels, "being stuck" is only a thought. Being stuck is the difference between the world as it is and the world as I would like it to be. It's not getting things done, combined with the sense that I should be getting things done. It's not knowing the answer, the meaning, the end of the story, combined with the sense that I should know one or all of those things.

With everything that's happened in the last week or two, it's natural to have mixed emotions, and to feel uncomfortable about what's coming next.

The first step to getting unstuck is to see that it's just a thought. And that I don't have to believe it.


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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Finalist Meetings

I'm in the process of preparing for two finalist meetings. Very different proposals, very different organizations. There's a lot to do, and a lot that needs to come together very quickly. And, frankly, there's a lot riding on it. Wins are hard to come by right now.

I've been asked how I handle the pressure of a sales role, with its dramatic ups and downs.

To me, sales is essentially about trust. You can make promises, but the client has to decide if they trust you, your team, your organization, to deliver those promises. That trust is built in every interaction you have. In my field, that could be years. And it can fall apart with one statement, or one misunderstood email.

You also have to have the right product. I could promise to deliver you the best VHS recorder ever made, but somehow I doubt you'll buy it.

The product is an organizational thing. Trust is a personal one. And I have more control over one than the other.

That, to me, is the biggest challenge with sales. The fact that so much of what I make is based on the product, and yet I have so little control over it.

But as I look at the rest of my life, I can see that this is always true. I'd like to think that what I make, how I do in the world is in some sense related to merit, to things that I have control over. That if I work hard I will make money and have success in the traditional way of measuring those things. And over time, I guess that's been true.

But for me and for many of my friends, so much seems like luck, good or bad. Maybe you land the big account and get paid handsomely for it. Maybe you lose a client, or maybe you even lose your job. So much of the time, events seem unrelated to effort or skill or even trust. (And in the purest sense, many of the talents and other qualities that we are born with our without are the biggest example of pure luck that I can think of.)

I'm left with doing my best, because that's really the only thing I have any control over. Whether I'm in sales or not.


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Monday, May 9, 2011

A Belated Happy Mother's Day

I want to wish Happy Mother's Day to my wife, to my mother, and to all the mothers in my life.

In my lifetime, I've seen the meaning of the word mother shift dramatically. In just one generation, the typical mother has gone from someone who stayed at home and handled all of the skinned knees, sports practices, dance recitals, homework, and other school and household stuff to someone who handles all of that and often works 40 to 50 hours a week on top of it. I know consultants, lawyers and doctors who do this. Even mothers who don't work outside the home face many more challenges and options for their kids than our own mothers did. For every mother, it seems, there's a constant fear of failure.

In my view, mothers are heroic in our culture. There are simply not enough hours in the day, and yet mothers do their two or more jobs, without complaint, and in many ways form the backbone of our society. I sometimes wonder if what I write, talking about the possibility of happiness in each moment of work and life, can seem at all possible to today's mother. I think in some small way it can. That it might even be essential.

I've talked with moms who in the midst of the chaos think that they can't get it done, that it's simply not possible, that it's a thankless job. And yet time and time again they come through. Are they perfect? No. But is the job of parent about perfection? No.

Parenting is about the small moments, the moments of presence, of connection. And I think moms should find solace that they can succeed even if they missed the game or the recital, even if they were occasionally late for the pickup. If they regularly have that felt connection with their children, if their children understand that mom and dad hear them and are on their side, then parents have done everything that anyone can possible expect of them and more.

That possibility of connection is right here, in this moment, in each moment we have with our children. It only takes a few of these moments to provide a lifetime of learning and bonding. Even if those moments happen when we're late to meet the bus. Parenting, like everything else, is about accepting what is. Thinking we should be better at it only adds to our suffering.

I want to thank and honor mothers everywhere for being perfect, just as they are, in everything they do.


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Friday, May 6, 2011

The Coming Revolution

I was just talking with a coworker and good friend, and we see the world crumbling around us. The old guard, the old values are rapidly being replaced with a completely new one.

Osama bin Laden is just one example of this. Why do you need terrorists when, with a webcam and an internet connection, you can start your own revolution? When a few thousand unarmed people can overthrow a country, why do you need suicide bombers? Sure, there will always be angry wackos who want to hurt people. But terrorism as a method for regime change no longer seems necessary, or even relevant.

The same thing is happening in the corporate world. Most don't see it yet, because they're trying too hard to hold onto the old order. If the model worked ten years ago, can't we just dust it off and maybe put up a Facebook page? Tweet a little and tell people how great it is?

Nope. The old order, the one driven by research and advertising, where I know what's best for you so therefore you'll do it, is already dead. In the old model you needed scale to do anything. In the new model everyone already has access to everything and the only limitation is finding the right idea.

I can't just build and tell anymore. If the customer doesn't feel heard, there is no sale. The new model is about collaboration, whether that means overthrowing a despot or designing new software. In the new model, the customer designs the solution, the supplier or seller listens instead of telling. The new model isn't even one model. It's unlimited models. It's about putting stuff out there and seeing what happens, about not knowing what's going to happen but trusting that it will be something great.

And those who are best at trusting collaboration are going to be the revolutionaries who succeed.

I'm a big fan of Seth Godin and his book Linchpin, which just came out in paperback. Buy it. But if you want a compelling example of how he thinks, and you have an hour or so, follow this link to a four part presentation. If you have fifteen minutes and just want the big finish, go straight to part four.

The password is iboughtthebook. And again, please do if you haven't already.


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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Knowing What's Next

According to coach Michael Neill, most of the time, when we think about what's next, we think in terms of what we have now plus ten percent. Twenty percent if we're really thinking big.

When I buy a new computer, for example, I might think about the capabilities of my current machine, but more of them. More disk space, more RAM, a faster processor.

When I think about a new job, I might think about the same industry, but more responsibility and more money.

This is left-brained thinking. It assumes that tomorrow is basically just like today, only a little bit more (or maybe a little bit less).

Though I desperately want to believe that's true, every market correction, every natural disaster, every corporate purchase or merger or restructuring shows me this isn't the case. Life comes in fits and starts. It isn't linear.

And non-linear is the province of the right brain.

What's next? I don't know. But I do know that it's much more likely to be revealed to me through gut feel, through intuition, through synchronicity, than it is thorough assuming the upward-sloping line on the revenue chart is going to continue.


(True footnote. As I was writing this, my wife discovered her wallet had been stolen, and we spent the better part of the evening calling our credit cards and bank accounts. We never know what's next. Ever.)

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